The view from my veranda

Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem. Home from Bulgaria, Macedonia and Greece

8th August 2013
Shabbat Shalom dear friends. We are back home with amazing stories from our travels.
The first thing I opened upon my return was this quote from author and academic John Ronald ReuelTolkien, sent by Gerald Gaffin, Tolkien was asked by a German if he was Jewish. His response…..
If I am to understand that you are inquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people. My great-great-grandfather came to England in the eighteenth century from Germany: the main part of my descent is therefore purely English, and I am a British subject—which should be sufficient.
I have been accustomed, nonetheless, to regard my German name with pride, and continued to do so throughout the period of the late regrettable war, in which I served in the English army.
I cannot, however, forbear to comment that if impertinent and irrelevant inquiries of this sort are to become the rule in matters of literature, then the time is not far distant when a German name will no longer be a source of pride.”
While giving the amber light to action against Iran, American Embassies have been forced to close in most countries of the Middle East due to clear and present danger particularly in Yemen which has become a crucible of terror. It seems ironic that the only Embassy which remains unthreatened is in Israel which is the only country which is denied an Embassy in her capital city as a sop to those who want to blow the USA to pieces! For the second time Congress is trying to correct this abomination and contact your congressperson
HR 2846 states that “The United States maintains its embassy in the functioning capital in every country except in the State of Israel.”The bill also recognizes that the government of Israel has met all of the standards for establishing a capital city according to the international law set forth by the 1907 Hague Regulations stating “Israel has far exceeded the 1907 Hague Regulation as directed by international law. Israel has taken all measures to restore and ensure public order and safety in Jerusalem. Jerusalem has been far safer and more protected under Israel’s administration than under any previous authorities.”

Now back to our incredible journey

A dear friend, Pablo Nankin, told me that he loved Sofia because the Bulgarians defended and took care of their Jews, against Hitlers demands whereas the Macedonians did not however Bulgaria controlled Macedonia and the King of Bulgaria ordered his police to send the Jews to the camps thinking he would not have to do so with Bulgarian Jews.

S From Skopje

To Ohrid

To continue our journey from Ochrid to Bitola or Monastir We went to the Jewish cemetery. Once the town of Bitola had a thriving Jewish community and the entire community was wiped out in the Shoah ; again their ashes were the only remains. Cousins Miriam Friedman nee Ovadia and Mazal Levi cried as they saw that the entire cemetery had become a field, the gravestones undoubtedly taken for secondary use. How were they to look for their families? Suddenly Zvi called to them, inside the tiny prayer room and memorial he found their family names on the wall among a list of families of Bitola that were taken by the Nazis – Koen, Kutiel, Aruti . – Zvi said Yizkor and Kaddish as we cried together in their pain. Miriam, 79 years old, finally found evidence of her lost family. She and Mazal had searched the world to find some memories of their predecessors without success and suddenly, in the cemetery, they had tangible truth, photos of the community. We cried together for the horrendous loss caused through foul all-encompassing hatred. It began with dehumanisation (like today), so that the locals in the various countries would not feel that their diabolical acts were anything but just rewards. In Bitola, the second largest Jewish community in Macedonia, there is a memorial to the Jews taken by the Nazis, written by the people of the city. The words on the memorial were simple. “In memory of our friends, family and brethren who were taken from us by the Fascist regime

En route we stopped at the breathtaking monastery and church of Rila One of the most beautiful aspects are the paintings on the walls and vaulted ceiling which included scenes from the Old Testament.

Friday saw us cross another border to Thessalonika or Saloniki in Greece. We went to the synagogue and on way we stopped at the railway station from which the Nazis sent the Jews of Saloniki to the camps. Mazal’s father among them. From there we walked to the Holocaust memorial and so to Shabbat morning prayers. I was amazed that the entire service, not just the prayers, was held in Ivrit (Hebrew). We were warmly welcomed, we sang for them and then we had kiddush. From the synagogue we walked the area to absorb the atmosphere. Later we saw the homes of the Jewish families who lived in Saloniki before the Holocaust and their obvious participation in life here.

After Shabbat we went to a local Taverna where we sang and were sung to. For Yossi Russo it was a moving and special treat as he sang in the city, the songs and the style his ancestors sang

As we left Greece and travelled back to Bulgaria for our flight home we stopped at a petrol station. We were all happy and chatting until a group of yobbos stopped next to one of our group and yelled AUSCHWITZ at her. Some things never change.

This was a truly incredible experience made possible by our guide Michael Shir from Jerusalem and our Macedonian hosts Angel Ivanov (Adriatic Travel and our local guide Willy ( We were the guinea pigs for this particular tour and they worked their hearts out to ensure our enjoyment and fascination.

Our journey was intertwined with our inevitable connection to the Shoah. The children of the perpetrators are not always like those yobbos – sometimes the sins of the father or grandfather are not visited on their ancestors – sometimes those ancestors take responsibility for the sins of the fathers and try to right them. The grandchildren of Nazis did the Walk of Life. Their words are very moving and enlightening

Dr Mehmet Oz, Turkish/American Moslem, the famous doctor on Oprah Winfrey, came to Israel with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. This is what Rabbi Shmuley wrote about their visit.

Mehmet is a Muslim, perhaps the world’s most famous who is not a head of state. He is a righteous and proud ambassador of his faith and feels an innate kinship and brotherhood with the Jewish people.
At the tomb of Maimonides we noted the role reversal. Maimonides, a Jew, was the world’s most famous physician, and he served the Muslim ruler Saladin.

It is so special to come home to Israel- as always but especially good to come home to fresh and crispy foods! No more stodge, the incredible fruit and veg picked yesterday, not last week; the salads made today not last week; the incredible variety of local foods, the freshness, freshness freshness of everything you eat………………… gosh I missed that!!!!

I loved the moment I walked onto the El Al aeroplane, the smiles and outstanding service of the stewardesses, the good food, the sound of Hebrew without translation, the feeling of being at home to discover we missed two wonderful sporting events

Messi and the Barcelona Team in a game with and for children battling cancer on their Peace Tour

Amar’e Stoudemire, NY Knicks star and co-owner of Hapoel Yerushalaim Basketball team, connected to his Jewish roots at Beit Hatfutsot with his family

Here are many of the friends of HaKol Yechassi – the Hora Jerusalem Choir with whom we travelled

The songs we sang

Adio Querido the story of the pain and bitterness of Spanish (Sefardi) Jews at their motherland Spain

The Kabbalist prayer Ana b’Koach

At each site that demanded prayer for those who perished we sang Kaddish

So here we are, back with the view from our veranda, the grandchildren, the preparations for Shabbat and the knowledge that we are home, sweet and beautiful home.

With love from Jerusalem – heart of our world